Turkey Valley senior point guard Eli Reicks splits the Janesville defenders for two points in Thursday’s district final in New Hampton. (Photo by Becky Walz)
Turkey Valley senior point guard Eli Reicks splits the Janesville defenders for two points in Thursday’s district final in New Hampton. (Photo by Becky Walz)

Despite falling one game shy of state, the Turkey Valley boys’ basketball team (22-4) has nothing to hang its head about. The squad posted the most wins of any team in school history, was part of four straight Upper Iowa Conference championships and was just the fourth team to reach the sub-state game.

The dream of reaching Wells Fargo Arena remained alive after the Trojans defeated Janesville Thursday, Feb. 27, in New Hampton, 42-37; however, the season ended Saturday night in the Class 1A Substate 3 contest as the Red and White fell to Lake Mills, 77-62, at Charles City.

One game shy

“We knew we needed to be special tonight and have some rolls go our way but that didn’t happen and that’s how sports go unfortunately. Even though we fell short of our main goal, which was to make it to state and make some noise once we got there, it was never from a lack of effort,” said TV head coach Chris Sullivan on Saturday’s sub-state contest versus Lake Mills.

Ethan Leibold looked to ignite the Trojan offense Saturday night with a jumper from the top of the key before Lake Mills answered with a trey of their own. The Bulldogs were rolling offensively in the first quarter, forcing TV to switch up its defense. The new defense still was no match for Lake Mills who took a 21-13 lead by the end of the quarter.

The Lake Mills shots continued to fall with ease in the second period, as the Bulldogs pulled ahead to a 32-17 lead with 4:58 left. The Trojans had a solid two final minutes of the quarter, inching the score to within ten, 34-24, at halftime.

“At halftime we talked about continuing to chip away in the second half but Lake Mills had too much fire power and we had no answer for Chett (Helming) who had 39 points and was doing a little bit of everything,” said Coach Sullivan.

With the opportunity to go to state on the line, the Trojans began to chip away at the Bulldogs’ lead in the fourth period on an 11-2 run. Seth Huinker managed to pull TV to its closest spread, 71-61 with 1:28 remaining; however, with time running out the Red and White were forced to foul to stop the clock. The free throws allowed Lake Mills to take the substate win and punch its ticket to the state tournament.

“Our kids played their hearts out for 32 minutes and left it all on the floor and as a coach that’s all you can ask for,” said Coach Sullivan. “This team faced adversity all year, with the number of injuries we had from football and basketball early in the season and all the sickness we had when the tournament started, but they remained positive and brought maximum effort on a daily basis to practice and games. This group not only was hardworking but had a great sense of humor and knew how to balance being locked in and having fun all at the same time. This game marks the last time these eight seniors will step on the floor and although the last chapter of their legacy we have been writing will come to an end, this team will be talked about forever.”

Leibold led TV in scoring with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Eli Reicks knocked down 15 points to go with three assists. Keegan Balk closed out the scorers in double figures with 11 points and five rebounds.

Sullivan’s final thoughts

“With all these amazing accomplishments the thing that stands out the most is the kind of kids they are off the court. I told them after the game they will all be successful moving forward because they’re hardworking, reliable and team players and that will go a long way in the real world,” said Coach Sullivan. “I want to thank Trojan Nation for all the support at our games throughout the season and especially in the tournament. The gyms were packed every night we took the floor and our kids fed off the energy that fans created. This group has set the standard high and although we lose an amazing group of seniors, we want this program to continue to reload and rebuild. The way these kids got to experience such amazing success was from all of the hard work they put in starting in third/fourth grade AAU basketball where they worked on their skills and learned how to play as a team. This group also put the time in the weight room, going to camps, open gyms and competed at a high level in everything they did from third grade on up. The last thing and to me the biggest reason we had so much success was because all these kids are multi-sport athletes.”


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